How many PCs for your Flight Simulator Cockpit?

Unless your are a billionaire with unlimited time available, the number of computers that you use to power your cockpit is a compromise – its a matter of Cost -VS- Realism -VS- Complexity -VS- time you have to maintain the whole show.

Let’s first look at the cheapest minimum amount of PC hardware necessary to run a Flight Simulator with any sort of realism.

Configurations using a Single Computer:

  • Let’s face it, one monitor on the desktop is just a toy or a test-bench.
  • Two monitors side by side is better, but will require an awful lot of panning to move from the external view to the virtual cockpit.
  • Two monitors side by side and one monitor for the virtual cockpit is probably the best combination for a single PC system, but will require a high-end CPU and a high-end graphics adapter.
  • Three screens side by side and one monitor for the virtual cockpit is possible but unwise  for a single PC system. Such as system will require a top-of-the-range CPU and a state-of-the-art graphics adapter with lots of VRAM installed on it. Despite it being ultra-high-end you will still need to turn down the “eye candy” considerably. With three monitors and a virtual cockpit all being powered by one graphics card will also result in some major distortion. Certainly such a system would be totally unacceptable for a serious “simmer”.

Something better will unfortunately hit you purse a bit harder…

Configurations using Two Computers:

Perhaps the best “bang-for-the-buck” is a 2-computer system. Multi computers should be linked together using Ethernet cables and an Ethernet network switch. One PC is configured as the controlling “master” computer and the other is the “slave”. Do not even think of a WiFi system – the “master” computer will simply not be able to communicate with the “slave(s)” fast enough.
X-Plane and P3D have built-in support for master and slave configurations, while FSX requires an add-on program like wideview.

  • The ideal configuration for a budget two computer system is a high-powered “master” PC controlling the whole flight simulation and displaying the virtual cockpit on a single screen using a mid-range graphics card. Two monitors then display the  external view only, and are powered by a mid-range “slave” PC and a high-end graphics card.
  • For a bit more money, a side-by-side 3-monitor external view arranged in an arc and a single monitor for the virtual cockpit, is the realistic limit for a two PC system. As in the example above, the “master” computer powers the whole system and displays the virtual cockpit; while the slave PC with a top-of-the-range graphics card powers the 3-screen “surround” display.
    If you want to use a 4K monitor for the virtual cockpit – Awesome –  you will need a high-end graphics card in the master PC as well.

Multi-PC configurations

For more than 3 monitors, external view distortion becomes quite unacceptable when powered by a single graphics card. To get better performance and less image distortion, you need to have a bunch of “slave” PCs each powering its own monitor, and all controlled by the master. This will enable 5 or 6 monitor external surround views. Each slave then only has to “worry” about powering its own single monitor – it gets told exactly what angle to display by the “master”.

Un-ashamed advertising plug…

As you can imagine with more monitors or projectors, this all begins to get a little complicated – at this point it is time to hire me to assist you unless you have money to burn making expensive experiments. Email me, and let’s see how I can help.